Make the ordinary come alive

One o'clock...

One o’clock…

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life.

 

A tree climbing gang

A tree climbing gang

 

Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.

 

Sticks and rivers

Sticks and rivers

 

And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

By William Martin

The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents

 

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Finding dinosaurs in the sand

What did you do this Sunday?  We decided to go for a walk around Fairhaven Lake in the bright late January sunshine.  An easy walk for a family of five, especially with scooters in hand, you may even call it a typical Sunday afternoon walk.  On this crisp and clear day we could see right across the estuary, probably the best view we have had since living in the area, with Southport seeming to be only a stones throw away.  Seeing silhouettes of people out on the horizon and giving in to the allure of the mostly untouched vista of sand in front of us, we clambered down the promenade wall and headed out into the estuary looking for the mighty Ribble.

A dinosaur in the sand

A dinosaur in the sand

Pretty quickly we could see a strange and weird shape in the distance jutting out of the baron sand.  It looked like it could be close to the river as the sand seemed to dip down just beyond the mysterious object.  So we headed towards it to investigate.  As we made our way out into the unknown and leaving the civilization of Lytham St. Annes behind us, Jonah observed that “this might be like walking on the moon.”  Although, even the moon is not as windy as the Fylde coast!  The closer we got to the object the more it began to look like a large skeleton, particularly one of a dinosaur – like you may see in a museum.

Young paleontologists

Young paleontologists

The dinosaur in the sand was in fact (disappointingly to the kids) a large piece of drift wood that had become well lodged into the sand banks and not a skeleton.  We did have a good chat about where the tree may have come from though and how it had got there.  It definitely created an eerie feel to the landscape, especially with the relentless wind filtering sand through the lattice like wooded frame.  We said goodbye to the prehistoric relic and completed our mission down the final dip to admire the Ribble as it glimmered its way past us and out into the salty Irish Sea.  Three tasty Drunmstick lollipops were freed from deep within the interior of the coat pocket as a satisfying treat for all, with the added incentive of being a psychological bribe, we turned 180 degrees head-on into the howling icy wind and made the long walk back to the mainland.  We had a typical Sunday walk to complete.

The Comedy Carpet

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Sometimes you have no idea what you are going to find or come across.  Your preconceived impression of a place often does not do it justice.  There are gems of brilliance, beauty, imagination, innovation, quirkiness, weird and wonderful everywhere. You just have to have your eyes open and be prepared to get out and about and explore the world you live in.

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Today we ventured into Blackpool and took on the bitterly cold wind to find out a bit more about our new home and what the promenade had to offer on a Sunday in January.  It was not a democratic family decision and the sight of us defiantly picnicking in isolation next to the central pier did cause a few aggravated protests as red numb hands tried to claw crisps out of their fragile packets.

photo 2 (17)We packed up our picnic and deposited our rubbish and headed up towards the tower to get a family photo to confirm in the archives that we were here.  Glum faces trudged up the promenade in single file like a Tour de France break away group using the lead rider as a wind shield.  Surely nothing could bring a smile to their faces not even those dreaded words, “say cheese!”

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How wrong can one be though, and who would have thought that for the next hour the cold wind and frozen bones would be forgotten. Suddenly, underneath our feet the promenade erupted into an impressive spread of quotes, stories, catch phrases and jokes, known as The Comedy Carpet, created by Gordon Young and commissioned by Blackpool Council.  It is a superbly well presented collection of comedy genius that encapsulates the very best of British humour.

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We all went off in our own directions, heads down and reading the vast array of reflections and chuckling to ourselves.  You would actually need hours to read them all and one day I will go back and start from a different angle and note new favourites, some old and some never heard before. Everyone likes jokes and loves to share them, and it wasn’t long until Jonah was tugging me over to listen to his favourite jokes that he had read inscribed on the Blackpool promenade – one being something to do with horses playing water polo!  (You can read some of Jonah’s very own jokes here.)

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On the way home in the car it was interesting that nobody complained how cold they were or had been, instead everybody was still sharing their favourite jokes and even Zoe and Sam were trying to make up their own ones.  It is a real hidden gem and I am glad that we discovered it so early on.  The Comedy Carpet will now be a regular feature on future Crouch tours – you have be warned when you come and visit!

 

 

Good things come to those who wait

Will they ever get used?

Will they ever get used?

When deciding on our next family adventure and weighing up the options, the children’s opinions obviously always mattered and were going to play a big part in our decision making. When going to the UK became a serious option it was obvious that this was a popular choice for both my two oldest kids for a number of reasons and top of that list of reasons was that they really wanted to see, feel and enjoy snow.  For the last 2 months I have been telling them both that snow is unlikely and that it may only happen once a year if that.  They all got a plastic sledge each from Santa (grandma) for Christmas, wrapped up in black bin bags (Santa doesn’t seem to do large wrapping paper?), and momentarily used on the living room floor as they tried to imagine what it would be like to use them but not knowing when.  Little did we all know that they would be in full action less than from 48 hours from then.

It's real snow!

It’s real snow!

We were driving back from the sales as the light was fading late on the 26th. In the car headlights large flakes of snow began to glide through the beams and we all shouted out that it was snowing!  It got denser as we drove home, a lot like going into ‘hyper-drive‘ on the Millennium Falcon (apparently).  The kids were desperate to get outside and to feel the snow and as soon as we parked up the car they pulled on their winter coats and dived into grandma’s backyard to adsorb the new experience.

One happy snowman

One happy snowman

I explained to the kids (and my wife, who was just as excited) that the snow may not last for long and can soon thaw and turn to a brown slush, especially if it rains overnight. Even though it was now night time we decided to make the most of the opportunity and had our first family snowball fight, making sure a few snowballs also found their way through grandma’s front door at the same time!  The snow was settling and the conditions perfect to build a snowman.  I showed Jonah how to start with a small lump of snow at the top of the road and then roll it down the hill, “this is perfect rolling snow Jonah” – constantly flipping it over as it increased in size and trying to maintain a rounded shape.  I worked on his body and Jonah made his first ever snowman head.  We added some small stones for eyes, his mouth and buttons, and of course gave him a carrot for his nose.  The garden bush was hacked for some arms and a forgiving grandma donated an old scarf and hat for him to wear. The finishing touch was an empty can of Guinness which had helped keep dad warm through the activity and we both thought the snowman would appreciate (the idea of) it – hence his larger than life smile, he had waited a long time.

Even a snowman needs a friend

Even a snowman needs a friend

Before going back indoors and facing the not so pleasurable new experience of very cold toes and feet meeting a hot steaming bath, we decided to leave the snowman with a small friend to keep him company throughout the night.  Pleased with our spontaneous fun and achievements in the snow, we looked forward to a content sleep – the type you always seem to have after being active outdoors and in challenging weather conditions.  The only concern on the kid’s minds was if the snowmen would still be there in the morning.  They peeked out of the upstairs bedroom window every time they passed it informing the household “the snowmen are still there!

They're still there dad!

They’re still there dad!

Is there anything better than waking up to find the world covered in a crisp blanket of dazzling snow with clear blue skies and a sparkling winter sun?  Seeing your two special snowmen friends smiling up at you and coaxing you out to play?  Knowing there are three brand new shiny plastic sledges in the shed that are going to be christened today?  Plastic bags in between double layers of socks, thermos flasks filled and rations packed away, we are all ready for a full day of family sledging for the first time. There can’t be many better days than this, they are definitely worth the wait.

Teaching people, not content

singing

 Post contributed by Karen Partyka

In the music department we start preparing for Christmas in September so in many ways it is a relief when the Christmas concert arrives! This year I was taking the Junior Choir. I had 30 wonderful pupils aged 11 to 14 who came to rehearsals every week without fail. I had chosen two songs to perform at our Christmas concert and we worked for many weeks. The pupils were very excited about our concert and they were all looking forward to it.

old people

I knew the pupils would get something from being in the choir and performing in the Christmas concert. I also organised that during our last week of school the junior choir would visit two care homes to sing Christmas carols. Some of the residents were quite sick and frail, the pupils had bought small presents for the residents. The residents were very touched by the presents and some were very emotional, that children who did not know them had brought them a gift.

choir1

However, I have a senior student in my music class, who I will call John. He moved to the UK two years ago and did not speak any English. Through that time he has managed to learn English and learn about British culture. He lives with his mother but his father lives in a different country. He has found the last two years extremely difficult, he could not speak English at the start so it was difficult to make friends, culturally he did not fit in and in many ways he is different from other students his age.  He loves music!  He is in the music department before school, break time, lunchtime and any free periods. He loves listening to music, composing and performing music.

guitar

As we approached the concert John was not in a group that was due to perform but just a few days before the concert the principal of music asked John to be involved with the backstage team and he was given the role of operating the curtain. He was delighted, he was desperate to be needed and feel involved. Over the next few days I watched as he worked and prepared with the backstage team who were all boys and close in age to him. In the short space of time he started to make some connections and even friends with these boys. On the day of the concert the backstage team were ordering Dominos pizzas. I could hear John laughing with the other boys and it was priceless. He had found some boys who had similar tastes and interests and just maybe he was now on a slightly easier road.

On the evening of the concert I arrived at school and bumped in to him. I was blown away. He scrubbed up so well!  Being a typical boy he didn’t seem to wash his hair very often, but that night he was showered, hair brushed and put up in a ponytail as he has long hair. He had black professional clothes to wear. He looked the part! During the concert I was so proud as everything he had to do was done to perfection, all his cues he executed superbly.

choir

The whole concert went really well, the pupils had a wonderful night. All the hard work was worth it just for John to be involved, all the work was worth it that he had the opportunity to feel needed, given the chance to be a part of something and start to make some friends. Secondary school can be very hard especially if you are a little bit different, but even if you have just a couple of friends it is a whole lot easier. The term has finished and John is working towards his qualification in higher music, it has been touch and go whether he will be presented but at this moment in time it is full steam ahead!  I want all the pupils in my higher class to do well and gain high grades, but my biggest achievement will be if I can ensure that John achieves his higher music.  For him it will show him he is worth something, I know he is bright and he can achieve.

One Man and a Piano

Expressing the artist in you

Expressing the artist in you

I was at the airport again today and had the pleasure to listen to a young man playing one of those ‘play me’ pianos in the public waiting area.  We had sat down to eat our packed lunch and placed ourselves next to the piano and talented pianist to enjoy the music whilst we ate.

Play me

Play me

Zoe immediately took her sandwich over to the piano and had a good look at what the man was doing.  She even started to move to the hypnotic tones of the jazz tunes being played.  I watched and wondered who first thought of this idea of placing pianos in public places for anyone to play?  The more I thought about it the more I loved the concept and continued watching to see what impact our pianist would have on other strangers in the waiting hall.

 

An American admirer

An American admirer

As I watched and also monitored Zoe, making sure that her busy fingers didn’t add any unwanted notes to a potential masterpiece, an American lady sidled up to the pianist and introduced herself.  She was quite animated and confident in her approach, immediately acknowledging the skills and passion of our pianist.  They struck up a common theme and chatted for a while, name cards were even swapped.  Meanwhile my oldest son had joined Zoe and the two of them had commandeered the piano as the two strangers were making plans.  I continued watching them talk at the same time cringing at the dreadful din being bashed out on the piano by Zoe and Jonah thinking I must intervene soon and save everyone from the terrible noise. Luckily the American lady suddenly shot off and the pianist re-focused his attention on the piano and set about on my two.

Twinkle Twinkle number

Twinkle Twinkle number

He asked them if they could play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and to my surprise Jonah started to play the favourite nursery rhyme. The pianist motioned Jonah to play a few octaves higher and then started to accompany him with a funky jazz bass version.  Suddenly my son was playing a Twinkle Twinkle duet with a random stranger and making heads turn in one of the busiest airport terminals in the world.

Patrick and a piano

Patrick and a piano

Isn’t it amazing how music and artistic expression and enthusiasm connects people. We only planned to be in the airport for a short while and never imagined meeting someone like Patrick – how do you plan for something like that – you don’t (but always look out for the opportunities).  I asked Patrick where he was going and what time his flight was.  He told me he wasn’t going anywhere, so I asked him if he was on his work break and if he did this everyday when he had the chance.  He said no, and that he had just seen his Japanese friend off and decided to hang around and the play piano for a couple hours.  We said a big thank you and good bye to Patrick and wished him all the best with his future plans (he is starting a film business).  We walked out of Heathrow Airport for the second time in one week but this time refreshed from the positiveness of personal connectivity and social interaction and privileged that we had met Patrick, the piano player.

Sewing for global citizenship

Contributed by Karen Partyka

Sewing with Karen

Sewing with Karen

I started sewing earlier this year. I wanted to be free from being told what to wear by fashion and be creative. I also started making little things for other people, bags, lavender sachets etc. Then recently I saw online about a woman called Lillian Weber. She is 99-year-old and for the last two years she has been making dresses for girls in Africa through an organisation called Little Dresses for Africa.

Lillian Weber making dresses for others

Lillian Weber making dresses for others

 

 

 

So far she has made more than 840 dresses and she plans to make 150 more by next May which will mean on her 100th birthday, she will have made her 1000th dress! I was so impressed by this lady, she took her talent and decided to do something with it beyond her own life. I looked into this organisation and decided I could start making dresses.

girl

The organisation mainly gives the dresses to girls in orphanages and to families who would have to choose between food or clothing but could not pay for both. I was horrified to read that during one of the trips to Sudan, they gave the dresses to little girls who were wearing absolutely nothing. Clothing is a basic necessity and one of the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Having clothes gives you an identity, gives you a purpose and dignity. People who live in the developed world have no idea what it is like to have nothing to your name and how having one item of clothes which is yours only, you don’t have to share, just yours, can be the little seed which will grow. The charity’s motto is “We’re not just sending dresses, we are sending Hope

Watch this – the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (always good to remind yourself)

We all have talents and gifts, when I was sewing my dresses I was thinking I was sending these to African countries and that my dresses would be saving the children. These dresses will not change their lives in a day and I am not saving these children. But it is a partnership, these children deserve the right to have the opportunity to develop into global citizens and to take up their place in their community and the world. One of these girls could become the leader of their country and allow it to prosper and years down the line they will teach me.

“Just because you can’t count it doesn’t mean it doesn’t count.” Sir Ken Robinson